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Legal limbo in Paradise

The Title Deed mess affected thousands of expat homeowners, but for those living on the Paradise Hills estate in Paphos it has been particularly brutal since their British developer went bust.

Paradise Hilld development Marathounda CyprusSIX YEARS after the Sunday Mail first highlighted their plight, distraught homeowners in the unfinished and paradoxically named Paradise Hills estate in a Paphos village remain without their Title Deeds. The developer has long gone bust, forcing them to struggle with officials for redress.

The 49-unit development in Marathounda is essentially a ghost estate. Only three families live on site. The rest of the flats and villas stand empty, their owners abroad, while weeds choke entranceways and deepening cracks appear in some of the structures.

Pavements have buckled, caused by a water drainage pipe installed on a hill behind the estate through which water pours endlessly during the winter months. An access road, mostly paid for by the owners, has never been completed.

“We are stuck in Cyprus. Prisoners. It’s like waking up in the dark with a noose around your neck and it’s getting tighter and tighter,” said Tracey Hames.

She and her husband Lance paid around €240,000 for their three-bedroom villa, handing over the last instalment just a few months before the developer MDB Properties Limited was dissolved. The company went into provisional liquidation in 2009.

All the couple’s money is tied up in the property. Tracey has suffered so much stress that she has been hospitalised and is now on lifelong medication.

A weathered sign at the entrance to the estate adds insult to injury. The billboard features an artist’s impression of a finished development with the starting price of a place given in long-defunct Cyprus pounds. Next to the sign proclaiming Paradise Hills someone has scrawled ‘Nightmare Hills’.

The Hames are desperate to find ways to complete their homes and get hold of their Title Deeds. Her husband said no owner has ever been contacted by any authority to explain what is happening at the site.

“We are in an ever increasing state of worry as the site itself is deteriorating. Most of the properties were sold to British nationals and after eight years struggling, we should have an administrator in charge of this mess by now,” said Lance, adding that their villa was worthless without Title Deeds and sitting on an unfinished site.

“Authorities fob us off and are not interested. We have been told by our lawyer that the bank won’t deal with us as it’s going through a legal process, but there must be someone at the Bank of Cyprus who can help.”

Louise Zambartas is the lawyer for 11 of the owners at the site.

She believes that the Entrapped Purchaser’s Law passed in September 2015 and aimed at helping homeowners obtain their Title Deeds should help her clients ‘hugely’ and they are taking advantage of that.

The law was passed to sort out the mess which saw thousands of mainly expat homeowners, who had paid in full for properties in Cyprus during the building boom in the 2000s, left without Title Deeds either because the property was mortgaged by the developer, or the state could not go ahead with the transfer because of outstanding taxes.

The situation at Paradise Hills is especially problematic.

“The problem here is that no separate titles exist as there is no final approval certificate and the developer never finished it,” said Zambartas. “I feel desperately sorry for them and hope that the bank and all those involved will do what they can to help.”

Zambartas said that if the bank were willing to contribute something towards finishing the site so that deeds could be issued, this would benefit them in the long term when units were sold in the future.

“If the bank was on board, it would help so much and I can only hope that this will be the outcome.”

According to Zambartas, of the 49 units at Paradise Hills, there are 40 contracts of sale deposited at the Land Registry. Some of the properties are under multiple ownership, for example one person owns five, and two others own two properties each.

John Rowles, 79, is an ex-British Army serviceman, who once served in Cyprus and owns one of the properties. Like the Hames he lives on the site. He paid the equivalent of around €90,000 for his apartment in 2006 and planned a quiet, stress-free retirement. Despite the ongoing problems, he said he still loves Cyprus and wants to stay in his apartment.

“I have my life in Paphos now, I’m a member of a walking group and a book club,” he said.

But constantly on his mind is the lack of progress over the future of his property.

“Nothing at all has changed here. I want the site to be finished and to live normally. I also want something to leave to my children. Nobody finds his way onto this site by accident and some air conditioning units have gone missing.”

According to Hames, so have a number of doors and windows.

Although the owners have been forced to live in a legal limbo for years, there are signs that progress is being made.

After the previous administrator of MDB – One World – withdrew itself, the bankruptcies and liquidations section at the Registrar of Companies were appointed provisional liquidator.

Recent changes to the law mean that the department is now the liquidator and can apply to outsource this work to another registered liquidator, which will speed up the process, according to the head of the liquidation section of the Registrar of Companies and Official Receiver, George Karrotsaki.

“Following some changes to the law, aimed to help clear a backlog of cases the department is facing, we followed the new procedures to become liquidators. In the case of Paradise Hills we managed to do this on 27 May, 2016,” said Karrotsaki. “Under the new procedure, the department, which has hundreds of cases to deal with, can appoint another liquidator, which makes sense to speed up the process.”

He added that if there was no objection raised by any of the creditors, by the end of the year, he hoped a liquidator meeting strict criteria would be in place.

“We will do our best for this case and others,” he said. “We care about people’s misfortune and it’s the government’s policy to find ways to help, which is why there are a number of new laws in place. They are particularly sensitive to foreigners affected, as it can discourage investment. There has been a big mess in the past and this needs sorting out.”

But as the fight for Title Deeds winds on, owners also have more immediate problems to deal with.

Promises by the community leader of Marathounda to finish the access road to the site – part of which the owners have already paid for – have yet to come to fruition.

The virtually empty estate has been further damaged by a run-off water pipe installed behind the development

The virtually empty estate has been further damaged by a run-off water pipe installed behind the development

On top of this, a water drainage pipe which gushes out thousands of litres of water during rainy periods has been constructed on land just above the site and has caused severe damage to infrastructure.

“I’ve been up to the village and asked if they will finish of the road to our complex, we paid for a large chunk of it ourselves,” said Lance. “The muhktah agreed, but then nothing happened. He also said that the drainage pipe was nothing to do with them, but the water board.”

An initial run-off pipe which was placed behind the site was closed off following complaints from Hames and others that the water was eroding the site. However, Hames said that about six months later, an almost identical one appeared close to the site of the first.

The head of Paphos water board confirmed that the local community board is responsible for the pipe, which he said could be “moved easily”.

Numerous attempts by the Sunday Mail to contact Christakkis Andreou, the community leader of Marathounda, went unanswered.

In the meantime, Rowles tries to remain sanguine over the prospects for the estate, but believes time is running out.

“I believe everything will eventually be sorted out here, but I will probably be dead by then.”

Paradise Hills featured on ITV’s Holiday Homes from Hell in July 2011. The show can be viewed below:

Readers' comments

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  • embapaphos says:

    I feel for these people, the stress is unbearable this time last year I was hospitalized too, stress related! I was fortunate enough that trapped buyers law helped me out…received tainted deeds though, to clean up developers mess & get clean deeds I need to cough up for repairs etc….as if this is not enough the building infringement is on a part of the property that is ‘shared’ means I have to go chasing the bank to consent and if lucky chip in as they own specific part of property with violation jointly with me…..doubt they will pay even though it is in banks benefit to get clean deeds for the properties they own in essence since the purchasers are failing pay mortgages! anyway massive thanks to Nigel again for all the years of listening to us.

    Ed: Thanks for your comments – it will be in the bank’s benefit to assist with the repairs if they want to sell the other property – and if the developer is still in business they could be sued for the costs involved.

  • A v Settle says:

    It is a similar story all over Cyprus were Title deeds are concerned.

    No one at the Land Registry is in a hurry to sort it out. All you get is that there is still a lot of work to be done. Developments like ours are being partitioned off? the developer/builder owes millions to the Government in Taxes. Has not complied with a court order to make repairs to property to the owners satisfaction. No one seems to be held responsible for this entire mess.

    One way to sort this out is to issue Title Deeds to all who have been waiting more than 5 years without costs and improve the running of the Land Registry and stop the go slow attitude.

    Ed: So far this year the Land Registry has transferred 10,994 properties to their ‘new’ owners – and they have probably issued more Title Deeds that are waiting to be transferred.

    But the Land Registry cannot issue deeds until the District/Municipal offices sign-off properties and issue them with a Certificate of Approval to confirm that they’ve been built in accordance with the various permits issued for their construction. Earlier this year the Land Registry passed more than 20,000 cases to the District/Municipal offices.

    If your developer has failed to comply with a court order then he is in contempt and the matter needs to be referred back to the court and he could face a prison sentence.

  • Tearing my hair out.. says:

    One of the side effects of Brexit is now surely- we can highlight Cyprus as a bargaining chip in triggering Article 50?

    One of the governments persistent excuses for spectacular non-intervention was we cannot tell other governments what to do as we are all bound up in European statute and legal processes.

    Well, now we aren’t so much are we? We should threaten all UK Cyprus & British residents hiding any ill-gotten gains from Cyprus over in the UK with a ruthless drag-net and possible seizure of their assets.

    Any trade we have with the island will be completely terminated in future until this is fairly sorted out.

    All of the mechanics to achieve this are in place – it’s just missing the will and the intent.

    One has to ask .. why?

  • steve r says:

    We are stuck on a similar site in Nata. Our developer ran off after taking over 1 million euro from people. This has been highlighted in 2 documentary programs on British national television but nothing has been done by the Cypriot or British police. He just came back to the UK and carried on with his life as normal. A few owners on this site are getting on in years and will have nothing to donate to their children even though they have paid for their properties in full. This whole sorry mess has gone on for over 10 years now with no light at the end of the tunnel. So sad to see.

    Ed: I expect this is the Adrian Mills MDE Nest Homes ‘Valley View’ development that was built on bentonite and never completed? I met with Dominic Littlewood when he was here filming for ‘Cowboy Builders Abroad’.

    MDE Nest Homes Cowboy Builders Abroad

    The other TV programme was by BBC Inside Out.

    British Developer Shatters Cyprus Retirement Dreams

    If the authorities refuse to act the only option for the residents is a private action against Mills.

  • Mike says:

    “Paradise Hills”? Certainly sounds like nightmare hills to me. Authorities have let these people down badly.

    Ed: Not to mention Martin Dean Bissenden the director of the development company MDB against whom a bankruptcy order was issued in Canterbury Crown Court in June 2013.

  • Gary says:

    I sincerely hope there is light at the end of the tunnel for everyone caught up in this mess. It would be fantastic for Marathounda as well if the development could be completed.

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